Monday, September 8, 2008

Governor Louis P. Harvey

Governor Louis P. Harvey was inaugurated as Wisconsin’s governor on January 6, 1862. At his inauguration the 12th, 15th and 16th Wisconsin acted as a guard of honor during the procession to the capitol. He was the only Wisconsin governor that had this honor during the Civil War. Harvey was known as the “soldiers’ governor” because one of his pet projects was a relief fund for the families of soldiers. This fund combined with money sent home by soldiers would hopefully keep families financially stable.[1] His first message to the legislature on January 10th asked that the fund have enough funds to give every soldier’s family $10 a month. Instead the legislature allocated enough funds for $5 per month. In mid-February the State Treasurer informed Harvey that the relief fund was in desperate need of funds. Harvey went to the legislature again and begged for funds, claiming that “the $5 per month pledged by the state is the sole dependence of a helpless family against cold and hunger.”[2]

Following news of the battle Governor Harvey asked Surgeon General Wolcott for a list of articles that would be most needed on the battlefield. The list was published and soon the Governor had collected 90 boxes of supplies; 61 from Milwaukee, 13 from Madison, 9 from Janesville, 6 from Beloit and 1 from Clinton. He then left the state on April 10th to be with his troops in the field.[3] As Harvey left for the south he would have some good news for the soldiers, on April 5th the legislature allocated $50,000 for the relief fund.[4] The party consisted of Harvey, Commissary General Wadsworth, Surgeon General Wolcott, with a staff of eight medical assistants and General EH Brodhead.[5]

The Governor’s trip was reported by J.M. Bundy in the Milwaukee Wisconsin:
Although pressed with a thousand cares in making the arrangements for our trip,
he made it his duty, at Cairo, to visit our wounded in the hospital boats,
taking them each by the hand, and cheering them, more than can well be
described. As he came round among them, his heart full of kindness, and
his face showing it, tears of joy would run down the cheeks of those brave
fellows, who had borne the battle’s brunt unmoved, and they lost at once the
languor which had settled on them. Then, at Mound City and Paducah, in the
hospitals and on the hospital boats, it would have moved a heart of stone to
witness the interviews between the Governor and our wounded heroes. There
was something more than formality in those visits, and the men knew it by sure
instinct. When we went ashore at Savannah for a few hours, on our way to
Pittsburg, those scenes became still more affecting. Over two hundred of
our wounded were there, suffering from neglect and lack of kind care. The
news of the Governor’s arrival spread, as if by magic, and at every house those
who could stand clustered around him, and those who had not raised their heads
for days sat up, their faces aglow with gratitude for the kind looks, and words,
and acts, which showed their Governor’s tender care for them. At times
these scenes were so affecting that even the Governor’s self-control failed him,
and he could not trust himself to talk.[6]

At the Wisconsin Monument dedication in 1906 Jacob Fawcett still remembered how he met Harvey. “A gentleman came to my cot and inquired about my wound and how I was being treated; and his kindly words, which I felt came from a manly and sympathetic heart, cheered me more than words can describe.”[7]

When Harvey reached the Wisconsin camps at Pittsburg Landing on April 12th there were hundreds of sick and wounded men who had been rushed into battle only a few weeks after leaving the state. They had lost terribly in comrades and officers and had sunken in gloom and suffering. When it was announced that Governor Harvey was near an electric thrill of joy started them up from saddened groups and collected them in crowds to hear words of cheer from their governor. He worked unremittingly among them to alleviate their sufferings and fill, them with courage for the present and the future. He carefully ascertained who had distinguished themselves in battle and took their names in order to promote them but he would not live to fulfill this promise.[8] During the evening of April 17th Harvey wrote a letter to his secretary in Madison saying that he was glad he had come to Shiloh. “Thank God for the impulse which brought me here. I am doing good work and shall stay as long as I am profitably employed.”[9]

On April 19th Governor Harvey bade farewell to the soldiers at Pittsburg Landing and went down the Tennessee river to Savannah. The traveling party did not expect to take a steamer to Cairo until the next morning and they had retired for the night on board the Dunleith, lying at the wharf. At ten o’clock the Minnehaha hove into sight and the group prepared to transfer to the approaching boat. As the bow of the Minnehaha rounded close to the party on the Dunleith Harvey stepped aside but slipped and fell into the river between the two steamers. Dr. Wilson immediately reached down his cane but Harvey grabbed it with so much force that he pulled it away from Wilson. Dr. Clark then jumped into the river, held onto the Minnehaha and reached for Harvey but to no avail as the current was too strong and Harvey drowned.[10]

Attorney General Howe on receipt of the news at Madison of the drowning took the railroad to Cairo. He was empowered to offer a reward of a thousand dollars to whoever recovered the body. Lieutenant Governor Salomon assumed the duties of Governor on April 22 and proclaimed that May 1 would be a day of mourning, state offices would be closed and he recommended that each town hold a public demonstration that day to commemorate Harvey. On the day of mourning dispatches were received in Madison announcing that Harvey’s body had been found.[11]

Harvey’s body had drifted down river about sixty miles below Savannah. Some children discovered it on April 27th. They ordered a Negro to pull the body out of the river. The contents of the pockets were divided between the children and the Negro, the Negro keeping the governor’s watch. The body was then returned to the river but an eddy kept it close to shore. A white man living near by heard the story, retrieved the body from the river and buried it on the bank. Upon examination of the papers found on the body it was ascertained to be Governor Harvey. Another white man living near by, Mr. Singletoe of Brift's Landing, was able to retrieve most of the valuables taken by the children and the Negro. On April 30th a passing steamer, the Lady Pike, was hailed and told that Harvey’s body was nearby. The personal items were turned over to the captain of the ship and the body was disinterred, undressed, washed, wrapped in blankets, placed in a box and taken to Pittsburg Landing. It was then escorted to Cairo by an honor guard of twenty soldiers of the 14th Wisconsin and taken to Madison where he was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.[12] One of the members of the honor guard was William John Hamilton of Company F, one of the soldiers who captured a Confederate cannon at Shiloh.[13]

The Milwaukee News paid Harvey the following tribute, "Wisconsin never elected a Governor to rule over her personally more respected than Louis P. Harvey. Last autumn we earnestly opposed his election to the office he has since so honorably filled; but neither during that somewhat animated contest, nor since, did we hear one harsh word spoken of him, or seen an unkind word written. His personal integrity was above suspicion, and he leaves behind him a name untainted, and a record unstained by a breath of suspicion as to the purity and sincerity of his public or private conduct. When he lost his life we was upon an errand of mercy - to see that the wounded men of Wisconsin should be cared for in their pain and trouble. With a heart tender as that of a woman, he had hastened to their relief, hesitating in his departure only long enough to call upon his fellow citizens by telegraph to send on the necessary aid. In the prime of his life, upon the very threshold of the honors to which he had nobly aspired, the babbling waters have closed over him."[14]

[1] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 110.
[2] Toepel, M.G. and H Rupert Theobald, eds. Wisconsin Blue Book. (Madison: WI, 1962) p 97
[3] Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, p 434.
[4] Toepel, Wisconsin Blue Book, p 97.
[5] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 117.
[6] Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, pp 434-5.
[7] Wisconsin Shiloh Monument Commission. p 93. Jacob Fawcett was a private in Company I of the 16th Wisconsin. When he spoke at the monument dedication he was a supreme court judge in Nebraska.
[8] Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, p 436.
[9] Toepel, Wisconsin Blue Book, p 100.
[10] Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, p 436.
[11] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, pp 119-20.
[12] Wells, Wisconsin in the Civil War, p 20. Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, pp 120-2. Oshkosh Courier. May 9, 1862. Page 2, column 1.
[13] 1888 Grand Army pp 360-1.
[14] Oshkosh Courier. April 25, 1862. Page 2, column 1.

No comments: